On February 16, 170 students, mostly girls under 18, were abducted by a group of armed separatists from a boarding school in Kumbo, in the North-West region of Cameroon. The separatists, who stormed the building in the early hours, also abducted a teacher and two guards. Everyone was released the following day amid rumours of ransoms being paid. The school remains closed.
Human Rights Watch has interviewed numerous witnesses and reviewed many images of the recent abuses in Kumbo.
The crisis in the Anglophone regions has taken a heavy toll on education. Separatists and unknown assailants have damaged, destroyed, or burnt down scores of schools and kidnapped hundreds of students across the regions.
The security situation in Kumbo is extremely volatile and the city has been in a state of crisis since September. Over the weekend, in what appears to be an act of retaliation against residents perceived as sympathetic to the separatists, security forces burnt down scores of private homes and shops across Kumbo. Destruction of private property by the Cameroonian security forces has been rife since the crisis started. Human Rights Watch has documented the burning of more than 20 villages by members of the security forces between 2017 and 2018 in both the North and South West regions.
The day after the mass abduction, soldiers looking for wounded separatists broke into the Shisong hospital and fired several shots in the air. The soldiers also threatened to kill a man in front of hospital staff. This comes as reports highlight more attacks on health facilities, including the looting of a health center in Wosing village by separatists on February 15, and the destruction of the Kumba district hospital on February 11
Kumbo remains almost completely shut down due to ongoing violence between separatists and security forces. Thousands of people have fled the area since violence escalated. Those who stayed behind have told Human Rights Watch they live in fear of the violence.
Both Cameroonian authorities and the separatists should stop unlawful abuses of residents and ensure that humanitarian actors have free and unhindered access to the area to assess needs of the population and provide assistance.